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Lessons in Leadership from Haver "Dan" Danner

By Kyle Danner

The Only Birthday That Matters

When we wished each other “happy birthday” in my family, Dad reminded us the only one that mattered was the United States Marine Corps' birthday. And Dad was serious.

Haver-“Dan”-DannerHe loved the Marines. As a young man from Independence, MO, the Marine Corps gave him the chance to see the world and instilled a passion for lifelong growth.

When I was a little kid sitting next to him in his delivery truck, Dad shared lessons in leadership he learned while serving our country. This November 10th marks the 244th birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

Dad served many roles in the Marines, but the one he enjoyed the most was "instructor." Recently, I came across several lesson plans, one of which was on the “Principles and Fundamentals of Leadership” he created in 1958. While it was written 60+ years ago, I’m struck by how the lessons remain relevant:

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“Know your men and look out for their welfare.”

This is servant leadership in its simplest form and a reminder that leaders keep other men and women’s well-being top of mind. When you ensure that your employees and co-workers are taken care of, you create a company culture that feels like family.

This is especially important if your employees are your family. You want them to feel like you truly care about them in and out of the office. They will be happier working with you, and tense moments will be few and far between.

“Keep your men informed.”

Communication and transparency are essential leadership tools. People want to know what’s expected of them and where they’re going. The #1 cause for so many problems in organizations and families can be traced to poor communication.

When you communicate clearly with every level of your business, you help your team members feel like they're a part of the business. This is invaluable because when we feel like we're a part of something, we're more likely to give our all and work our hardest.

“Set the example.”

It’s the age-old adage that actions speak louder than words. Nothing breeds dissent and dissatisfaction faster than leaders who fail to practice the values they espouse.

If you want your employees up at the office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., you should be there, too. If you want them to work hard, show them how hard you work. Your business is, at its core, a reflection of who you are.

“Train your men as a team.”

No one operates in a vacuum. We need each other to get things done in a world that’s becoming increasingly complex every day. Instill a culture of cooperation and camaraderie in your business by having your team members work in groups when possible. 

Another great way to help everyone work better together is through team-building activities. Take some time out of the week for a company happy hour. Throw company pot-lucks. Host holiday parties for your employees. These types of activities will help your employees deepen their relationships with one another and develop lasting bonds, which will reflect in their ability to work in harmony with one another.

“Take responsibility for your actions.”

This is painful to do when we mess up, but it’s a mark of vulnerability and maturity are key leadership traits. If you make a mistake, own it. Apologize to your team. And let your team know what you've learned from the experience. Every mistake is an opportunity for growth, and it will help you become a stronger, more effective leader.

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Become the Leader You're Destined to Be

The Marine Corps profoundly shaped my father’s life. He passed away in 2007, but I think of him often.

One of the joys of my work is drawing on the lessons he shared with me. I’m thankful that my sister, Mona, held onto Dad’s lesson plans and notes. It’s a way to keep a connection to him.

Today, these core values are still in place. You can read the updated version of the Marine Corps Leadership principles  from the Marine Corps University Research Library. Although some of the phrasings have been updated, the heart behind the original guide my father created remains. A lot has changed in the last 61 years, but the characteristics of a true leader remain the same. 

If you are a leader in your family's business, take the time to invest in your leadership abilities. Read leadership books. Attend leadership seminars. Choose a leadership mentor and follow in their footsteps. There's always something to be learned, some new way we can improve.

And finally, on November 10th, take a moment to remember the men and women who serve in the United States Marine Corps.

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